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Spin the Globe reviews, September 2003

GARIKAYI TIRIKOTI
MAIDEI

Limitless Sky Records

Attention mbira fans: you're about to spend 16 bucks.

Garikayi Tirikoti has been playing and building the mbira (Zimbabwean "thumb piano") for years, but only in 2001 did Limitless Sky producers Michel & Rosa Tyabji convince him to sit down and record his own music. The result is Maidei, a beautiful CD of original Shona mbira music, multitracked by Tirikoti on mbira, hosho (shaker), ngoma (drum), and voice, with some backing vocals by his nephew Lee Mumbani. The musical changes are subtle, rising and falling against the traditional cyclical background patterns. While the tracks are similar, the discerning listener will find plenty of variety, along with crisp recording, rich arrangements, and stellar playing. And the full lyric translations in the liner notes help convey a sense of the songs' meanings. "Sarirambi" is a plea for ancestral guidance in the face of persistent poverty. "Kugara Hunzwara" urges relatives to "stay together in understanding." And Tirikoti gets the blues on "Maidei" and "Chengeto" - songs of lost love.

You might consider this the sacred jazz of the Shona people, music that is played to influence the weather, mark celebrations, and heal trouble minds and bodies. For a great background on mbira music, see this page or just pick up this CD and enjoy. Singing and playing with great soul, Tirikoti conveys universal themes that speak directly to the heart. Your 16 bucks will be well spent.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

GABY KERPEL
CARNABAILITO

Nonesuch

Originally released in his native Argentina in 2001, Gaby Kerpel's Carnabailito is now available in the US. Though Kerpel has been performing with popular De La Guarda troupe, this is his first solo effort, an excursion through his mental landscape of vocals, percussion, and electronica with a light, deft touch. The songs are based on folk melodies of northeastern Argentina, though the wide variety of vocal styles and instruments - kalimba, accordion, flute, erhu (Chinese violin) - gives the CD a curious nomadic feel. And Kerpel does get musically restless, wandering from the accordion-erhu folkrock of the opening track "Se Que No Vas A Volver" to the short a capella "Seguis Sin Volver" to the drum and bass "Deseo Y Culpa" - and that's just in the first four tracks. He puts the rock in Rock en Espanol on the song "Xplicando" with crunchy guitars and driving drum kit. Then it's back to oddness with the simple, halting "Gabytok" - built on a guitar loop with kid vocals. Rounding out the 12-track CD is the title track, "Carnabailito," the closest thing you get to a straight-ahead electronica dance track. The edge of experimentalism and electronica built on a foundation of traditional folk music make Carnabailito well worth exploring.

Not unlike: Manu Chao, Issa Bagayogo

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

SHIMITA EL DIEGO & AFFRO-MUZICA
K. O. (KNOCKOUT)

www.shimita.com

Starting with a fight-announcer intro - "Ladies and gentlemen...the king of soukous in the United States of America" - Affro-Muzica's CD makes it clear from the start that the goal is to get your feet and hips moving. The opening track "Afro-Beat (medley)" cuts to the quick: "If you are a white [black / red / green] man, it doesn't matter, no / If you love my music you better come and dance," they sing, before diving into several African dance styles, including a decent cover of Fela Kuti's "Shakara (Oloje)." "I'm Sorry" lifts a riff from "Day Tripper" in its funky attempt to apologize for some past injury - or at least to obscure the offense by getting everyone onto the dance floor. "Show Time" keeps up the energy level, and toys with some cheesy synthesizer - which actually works in this context. There's not a lot of musical variety here, but credit Shimita and Affro-Muzica for doing what they do best: solid dance rhythms, strong guitar, smooth solo and group vocals. For feel-good African dance pop, you can't do much better than this.

Not unlike: Franco, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Kanda Bongo Man, Papa Wemba

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Stella Chiweshe & the Trio
Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003 - Ballard Firehouse, Seattle

sample/buy Stella's music here

Stella Chiweshe, queen of Zimbabwe's mbira (thumb piano) tradition, plays as a woman posessed. The spiritual foundation that underlies mbira playing was clear as she took the stage at the Ballard Firehouse this warm summer evening. The Trio sung and played various percussion, as well as an mbira with an electric pickup, while Stella, her long hair cascading over her face, sat and played her calabash-hidden mbira. The sound was a bit iffy, with her playing often disappearing from the foreground and coming out only when the percussion stopped. When audible, the range of sound from that small instrument was breathtaking, with deep resonant lows you might have mistaken for a bass guitar. It's a shame the sound mix didn't highlight her more.

Along with the sound troubles, a disappointment for me was that so few people - especially so few expatriot Africans - found their way to the show. Maybe it's the appeal of dance music over traditional/meditative music, but compared to the lean house for Chiweshe, the place has been packed for the upbeat, socially conscious Afro-pop of fellow Zimbabwean Oliver Mtukudzi.
Still, kudos to the Firehouse for presenting this hard-to-categorize (and hard to sell to the beer/dancing/party crowd) artist.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Djelimady Tounkara & His Acoustic Project
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2003 - Meany Theater, Seattle
more info on Djelimady here
Djelimady Tounkara: lead guitar
Samba Diabaté: guitar
Mariam Tounkara: vocals and shy dancing
Samba Diabate: vocals and percussion
Bamba Dembele: percussion, spokesperson, and energy management

I started enjoying the performance by Djelimady Tounkara when the stage held nothing but three empty chairs and a table with a half-calabash. Last year's show lept back into my mind, with the musical elder Djelimady laying down amazing kora riffs on his guitar, accompanied by excellent of musicians and singers.

When the stage was filled, I wasn't disappointed. The whole band was energetic, and seemed to be having a great deal of fun. Playing with amazing virtuosity, they were not only impressive, but also fun to dance to. The floor of Meany Theater soon was bouncing alarmingly with people hopping to Bamba Dembele's calabash & djembe beats. I did miss n'goni player Foday Sacko, who played with them last year. Still, with their new Tacoma guitars, Djelimady and rhythm guitarist Samba Diabaté tore up the place. At the start of the second set, the two guitarists played a duet that ended with a rapid exchange of kora riffs, and Samba was matching Djelimady note for note, something I don't remember him doing last year. If he keeps improving, he'll certainly be a musician to watch in the future. Bamba was his typical outgoing self, directing things on-stage and with the audience, and communicating in his broken but effective English. Hands down, this is one of the most fun and virtuostic ensembles you'll see; don't miss a chance to catch them. Next year, Tounkara promises to tour the US in his other musical persona - as lead guitarist for the Super Rail Band. I can't wait.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THE REPTILE PALACE ORCHESTRA
WE KNOW YOU KNOW

Omnium

Ethno-rock. Experimental space music. Hard-driving folkdance tunes. This kind of album is a nightmare for the person trying to categorize it. Whatever you call it, it's a new CD from the eclectic conglomeration from Madison, Wisconsin, known as the Reptile Palace Orchestra. Led by trumpeter-vocalist Anna Purnell, We Know You Know continues the groups' multi-pronged cultural assault on your ears (and I mean that in the nicest way).
Starting with the driving guitar of Balkan-flavored "Kochari," the Reptiles launch right into their attempt to colonize the space between your headphones. "Sex and Death" is a funky, bluesy tune about, um, those things. They pull out their gritty rock sensibilities and fat horn section for the hard-driving "Vehicle," then change the pace dramatically with the off-beat (literally!) "Sandansko Horo." Somewhere along the line, they leap into the bouncy, odd "If You Were a Frog," an exploration of the possibilities of being something else. "Eartha Lee Julie" is a probing drum-n-electronica pychological probing of Batman's obsession with a certain feline nemesis. Best of all, the variety and weirdness never seemes forced - it flows as a natural outpouring of their Reptilian nature.
Oh, and the CD contains bonus material too. And not just the cheap biography and tiny music video movie of some groups. No, the Reptiles include an additional CD's worth of music - 14 tracks, mostly live performances - in mp3 format, along with a web page of band info and lyrics. So pop this into your Walkman, crawl onto a warm rock, and let RPO warm your blood.

Not unlike: Horace X, Natacha Atlas, Red Elvises, Boiled in Lead

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

GRAZYNA AUGUSCIK
PAST FORWARD

GMA Records

Well-known in the Chicago jazz scene, Polish-born Grazyna Auguscik reaches out to a broader audience with Past Forward. The CD maintains some jazz sensibilities in the tight arrangements, but it's more exotic than jazz, particularly with Auguscik's moody Polish vocals. She demonstrates some tremendously deft scatting on "Why Me" and "No Return" and gets pretty close to straight-up jazz on the slow ballad "Krywan," though some listeners may find her breathy vocals emotionally thin. Perhaps the least compelling track is "Lullaby," which veers toward experimental-jazz territory. But following on its heels is the title track, kicked off with sharp dumbek work, soaring vocals, then rich, dark instrumentation taking the listener to "a place where hope exists." It's not a place that evokes a particular tradition, but it's a wonderful place nonetheless. In just seven tracks, Auguscik covers a lot of interesting ground with her talented band and leaves you wanting more.

Not unlike: Susana Baca, Ekova, Susheela Raman

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

SHELDON SANDS
DEAD SEA STROLLS

Hapi Skratch Records

A great deal of music has been emerging from deserts of late - Network's two Desert Blues CDs and the recordings from Mali's Festival in the Desert, along with various individual artists. Perhaps these arid areas aren't as unproductive as they appear. The latest in this march through the barrens is Sheldon Sands' Dead Sea Strolls. Subdued and melodic, the CD emerged from a seven-month artistic residency in remote Arad, Israel. Sands drank in the music, sounds, and culture, and turned around to tell us the story in song. Most of the album shares the sense of minor-mode melancholy often found in desert music. Traditional-sounding tracks include "Desert Equinox" with Yair Dalal on oud and violin; "Waseem's Taqasim" with Waseem Bishara on oud, and "Train to Acco" featuring Nabil Azzam's powerful violin. Less traditional are the didjeridoo contributed by Timothy Quigley on "The Calling" and the interplay of Eyal Sela's clarinet and Beth Quist's vocals on "Points of View." Rounding out the CD is "Niggun: Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem," a wistful musical prayer interspersed with sounds recorded at the holy sites of the three faiths of the holy city.
The entire CD is dedicated to peace and intercultural understanding, sorely needed in the region today. Playing with Isrealis and Palestinians, as well as other Americans, Sands hopes to bring some healing to the region. "The fact is, we are all unified, Jewish or Arab," he said in a recent interview. "We are all the same people, and music helps us to understand this common sense of spirit."

Not unlike: Simon Shaheen, Yair Dalal, El-Funoun

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 


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